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Horse slaughterhouse blocked 10 more days

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Protest against horse slaughter

Sue Carter, left, and Donna DiBanco protest horse slaughter outside the Steve Herrera Judicial complex in Santa Fe on Friday, January 3, 2014. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — A state judge has extended for another 10 days his order blocking the planned opening of a horse slaughterhouse in Roswell.

State District Judge Matthew Wilson on Friday ordered that the ban remain in place and scheduled a Jan. 13 hearing in the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Gary King, who claims that Valley Meat Co. is poised to violate state laws on water quality and food and consumer safety.

De Los Santos

Rick De Los Santos of Valley Meats at the Steve Herrera Judicial complex in Santa Fe, Friday, January 3, 2014. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

“We’ve been going through this for two years now, and so … we’ll see what happens in 10 days,” Valley Meat owner Rick De Los Santos said Friday after the judge’s ruling in Santa Fe.

He estimated the plant could be ready to open within a couple of weeks if the restraining order were lifted.

De Los Santos said the facility has a contract with a Canadian company he declined to name that will supply the horses and take the meat.

Valley Meat’s lawyer, Blair Dunn, argued at Friday’s hearing that the state court lacked jurisdiction in the case. He said the attorney general’s “real goal is to harass this company” because he disagrees with the premise of horse slaughter.

Dunn also called it a “politically driven issue,” noting that King, a Democrat running for governor, is promoting his opposition to the slaughterhouse on his campaign website.

Valley Meat’s operation would be the only horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico, although Dunn told the judge it wouldn’t be the first: He said the Mescalero Apache tribe had a commercial horse slaughter operation until the 1980s and that a slaughterhouse is not “some new, horrible environmental threat.”

Animal protection groups tried to block the slaughter plant in federal court, but their lawsuit was thrown out in November. An appeal is pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Assistant Attorney General Ari Biernoff told the judge that Valley Meat has said it will begin operating even without a wastewater discharge permit required by the state Environment Department. That permit is pending. Dunn countered that Valley Meat has been consulting with the department about a temporary alternative that doesn’t require a permit, allowing it to “pump and haul” wastewater to another facility.

But Biernoff said that provided little comfort because “Valley Meat is a serial violator of environmental laws.” The plant was a beef slaughterhouse before it closed in March 2012.

Biernoff also argued that horses are widely administered drugs that are not approved for use by humans and are specifically banned for human consumption, making Valley Meat’s product – from horses of unknown origin – potentially unsafe.

“The meat is safe. It’s not going to harm anyone,” De Los Santos said after the hearing. He said horse meat is routinely eaten in some other countries and there had been no reports of deaths from it.

Wilson acknowledged the arguments on both sides: that the slaughterhouse could result in harm to the food supply and the environment, and that preventing its opening could create economic hardship. He said the matter should be “properly vetted” and set aside an entire day for testimony on Jan. 13.

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